Teach For America’s expansion into preschool is having positive effects so far, at least in the District of Columbia, a study suggests.
During the 2007-08 school year, 124 pre-K pupils in the 49,000-student school district who were taught by TFA corps members learned to recognize all or most of the letters of the alphabet, according to the study by Westat.
The findings are “remarkable,” writes Nicholas Zill, the author of the paper, who recently retired from his post as a vice president of the Rockville, Md.-based research organization, “because getting young children from low-income families to learn all their letters before they start kindergarten is an accomplishment that is not usually achieved in Head Start or in public school prekindergartens serving low-income, central-city families.”
Recognizing letters, he adds, “is an important steppingstone on the path to reading.”
The results are also noteworthy, he writes, because the teachers were recent college graduates without advanced training in child development or early-childhood education—training that many organizations say preschool teachers need.
The study was not a randomized trial, but the preschoolers were evaluated at the beginning and the end of the school year, and their scores were compared with national norms and with the achievement of similar children in Head Start.
Additional evaluations of pre-K classes taught by Teach For America recruits are also likely, since the alternative teacher-preparation program continues to place its corps members, as TFA teachers are called, in preschool and Head Start classrooms.
The New York City-based TFA, which has been placing new liberal-arts graduates in hard-to-fill teaching positions since the early 1990s, began to move into the pre-K realm about two years ago. It officially launched its pre-K initiative in 2007. (“Teach For America Setting Sights on Pre-K,” Feb. 9, 2007.)
The effort by TFA in Washington and elsewhere, Mr. Zill writes, “should be prompting some soul-searching among those who want to strengthen early-childhood-education programs for disadvantaged children.”
A version of this article appeared in the December 10, 2008 edition of Education Week